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Friday, October 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Autumn Apple Rooibos Tea

"You're gonna like the way this tea tastes. I guarantee it."

Pardon me. I've been saying stuff like that all week, because I have that voice. You know the one. Low. Gravelly. Deep. It's late October, just got the first real cold spell of the year, it's cold/sore throat time. I've been feeling fine, aside from sounding like the dude on Men's Warehouse commercials. I'd love to hear him take some hits off a helium balloon sometime, by the way.

So chilly...insides need some warmin' and calmin''s tea time. But too early yet for lemur tea.

Fortunately, there's SPRINGBOK tea!

Trader Joe's Autumn Apple Rooibos Tea proudly has a well trained springbok balancing an apple on it's snout on the box. Why? Well, because rooibos is from South are springboks...if it's a TJ's seasonal tea, there needs to be a cute, lovable animal on it. Connection. Boom. Springbok tea.

Never mind that it's actually spring in South Africa right now...I digress.

It's good tea. Not great, but good. Rooibos, in my admittedly limited experience, is kinda a complex flavor for different flavors to arise out of. It's kinda the same here - unless a decent amount of sugar gets dumped in, the apple gets a little lost. I mean, it's there, but really needs to be coaxed out. There is a sweet and fruity taste to the tea, but I wouldn't default directly to apple.

I will say the longer the tea steeps, the better it tastes. The directions on the box say six minutes. Go longer. Keep that tea bag in there while you drink it - the last few swallows are the best and most vibrant without being overkill.

Sandy likes the tea a smidge or two more than I. I think it's because she usually adds sugar or honey to hers, while I prefer mine sans additive. To her, the autumn apple tea tastes like a good cross between hot apple cider ("that can be too apple-y and sweet') and tea - not too much one or the other. She's also generally more into tea than I am, which may help. It's a good solid four for her, while a three-ish, suits me just fine.*

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Autumn Apple Rooibos Tea: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

*Hahaha, get it? "Suits!" Hahahh....maybe I'm more delirious than I thought

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Harvest Spice Trek Mix

This product has mindblowing potential: an autumnal blend of fruit, nuts, and spices. Unique and delicious. Harvestacular. Both Sonia and I want to recommend it to you wholeheartedly, but we have this one little reservation. Let's break down the ingredients and see where this product fell from potential Pantheon status to a mere 7 stars...

Roasted almonds: check. Awesome. I love almonds, and they add so much to any trek mix. There's plenty of big perfect whole almonds here. Absolutely no problem.

Holiday spiced cashews: check. Who knew these were a thing? Sweet, happy little candied cashews that taste like fall. Amazing. Thanks for introducing me to these, TJ's.

Holiday spiced pecans: check. OMG. Even better than the cashews. A harvest trek mix featuring my three favoritest nuts in the whole world? What could possibly ruin this amazing mix?

Dried apple slices: check. It's the one harvest fruit that can tie all these excellent nuts together. They're thin, sweet slices of real apple, and some of the pieces are quite large. Okay, I may have found a new favorite trail mix...

But wait. There's another ingredient in here. Oh, it's ginger. Big chunks of actual ginger. And a heck of a lot of it. Won't that be too pungent? Oh's Candied Ginger. But you know what? The "candied" aspect of it really doesn't tone down the strength of the ginger flavor. It's still ridiculously strong. Why did they put so much of that stuff in here? I'm guessing Trader Joe's had a surplus of it after Russ and Sandy gave it a two out of ten, so they decided to sneak it into this poor unsuspecting trek mix.

I mean, we're down with ginger. Ginger as a flavor works just fine. A dash of real ginger can add a nice bit of zing. But when half the bag is full of massive chunks of the stuff, it just doesn't work for us. It's basically all we can taste if we're just indiscriminately shoveling handfuls of the mixture into our mouths. Oh well. At least we can still pick out the ginger chunks and eat the other ingredients. We just have to do a bit more work.

There were a few bites where I still got little pieces of ginger mixed in with the apples and nuts, and in those cases, it was pleasant. A dash of ginger is nice. There's just way too much of it in here. And this isn't the first time an otherwise great product was—I won't say "ruined" by ginger—but maybe "made less excellent" by too much ginger.

I understand some of you are really, really into the ginger chunks. If that's you, then we offer a projected score of 9.5 out of 10 for this product. For those of you who aren't, we'd like to steer you in the direction of an excellent non-TJ's trail mix that's very similar to this one, but without ANY ginger chunks at all.

As it stands, three and a half stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Organic Açaí Puree Packets

Stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things—that's what it's all about when it comes to venturing the wilds of Trader Joe's like our team has these past six years. Not that I'm uncomfortable with acai. I've been singing its praises since before this blog began. No, I'm not uncomfortable with acai as an ingredient. But when it comes in a bag pureed all by itself and I'm the one who has to figure out what to do with it—that's a challenge for me. I mean sure, there are suggestions on the packaging and there are tons of recipes and ideas online. But up to this point, the acai in my world has always been pre-measured, pre-mixed, and pre-sweetened. And I liked it that way. 

But could I like it like this? It was worth spending $4.49 to find out.

Sonia and I have been brewing up fruit smoothies in our little generic wannabe "bullet" blender as of late, and we knew acai would be a welcome addition to our concoctions, which generally feature bananas, strawberries, yogurt, almond milk or coconut milk, and agave sweetener. It seemed like acai would probably blend pretty seamlessly with those ingredients. But knowing the berry's properties of earthiness, natural caffeine, and high levels of fiber, there would be certain potential pitfalls associated with using too much or too little in our homemade mixtures, namely: creating a beverage that might not taste great, missing a decent amount of sleep, and/or extra visits to the bathroom. But despite these inherent risks, we dove right in to acai-land and got a-mixin'.

Once thawed, the product is a fascinating purple goo. I had never tasted acai by itself before. It's far less sweet and much more earthy/nutty than I ever imagined. Those mixologists at Robek's and Jamba Juice always told me acai had a "natural chocolate-type flavor." Well, it certainly does when sweetened. But by itself, the flavor might be likened to some unusual, berry-ified bitter cocoa bean paste. If anything, our smoothies needed more sweetener than usual once we added the acai, in order to cancel out its natural bitterness.

Once sweetened, however, it added a very welcome complexity to our beverages that one simply cannot achieve using more traditional fruits and berries. It wasn't quite like those store-bought mixtures or a "professionally-blended" smoothie, but it certainly wasn't bad. We never did quite achieve that chocolatey taste we've had before, but we created an interesting fruit-based beverage with a velvety texture and an inviting richness seldom attained outside an actual smoothie joint—where you'd pay upwards of $5 for a single acai drink. 

Both Sonia and I are finding this one a bit hard to score, since it's just a single ingredient that begs to be used with many other ingredients. But for what it is: a convenient, relatively-reasonably priced (acai ain't cheap) exotic berry puree that can enhance your homemade smoothies and shakes, we think it deserves to be rated "really darn good."

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce

In case you were wondering, I am completely not fluent in Korean. And I've read/seen enough of those clickbait-y type articles that show someone's tattoo that they thought was a Chinese/Japanese/Korean character for "Peace" or Love" or what have you and what it really meant (at least to some) was "Goofy White Person" or "I Have Three Nipples" or something along those lines. I have no idea if those are actually true.

So when I see some Korean tramp-stamped along the bottom back of Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce, pardon me if I'm a little apprehensive. It's probably something really nice. But if it could be translated as "Silly Foodie Hack Blogger, Are You Really Going To Review Me Even Though You Never Had Korean Barbecue?" It'd be what I deserve.

Because it's true.

Yes, I know. Shame on me. I know Korean barbecue is a thing. A very popular thing. Presumably, a very good thing. Unfortunately, it's not a very present thing here in the Pittsburgh area, far as I can tell. So pardon me that TJ's is my first foray into this particular area of cuisine.

Since I have only its own merits to judge it on, I'll start off by saying I generally like the sauce...but now I'm very interested in trying to compare to something a little more authentic. I'd think the particular blend of flavors could be a little better executed. Upfront there's a heavy soy sauce-y hit met with a fairly sweet dose of sugar. What kinda struck me is how similar, in some ways, that the taste mimics regular barbecue sauce once that soy gives way, but there's no tomatoes involved. Instead, it's gochujang sauce for the main body of the flavor. What's gochujang? I barely know myself, but looks like a blend of cayenne pepper, miso, vinegar, pear puree, and water. And more sugar, of course. The sauce has a fairly smooth body, aside from smallish pepper flakes here and there, with medium/average consistency.

There's a good bit of spice on the back end, which honestly I didn't notice until trying a spoonful of the sauce by itself. Any of the heat seems to dissipate easily into the rest of the dish, such as the pulled pork we had the other night, or the burger I dumped some on top of tonight. That being said, I could see this being a little wild for those with a sensitive palette - my kiddos avoided after a small taste or two, for example. It's not exactly an even flavor throughout, and perhaps a little less soy/a little more spice would have helped in that regard.

Between the wife and I, we'll get the bottle finished without too much struggle, but we don't have a new favorite on our hands here, either. It'll do, and as stated, the TJ's sauce does make me eager to try out authentic Korean barbecue. For a tasty mealtime condiment and possible gateway sauce to a new food world, we're game.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Nosh Show: Trader Joe's Cookie Butter

We went on The Nosh Show once again to share our favorite cookie butter products from Trader Joe's. Plus, we developed our own cookie butter products that we'd like to see on TJ's shelves.

View the show notes.

Subscribe to The Nosh Show on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherTuneIn or via RSS.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Chai Spice Loaf

There may come a day when I stop reviewing pumpkin spice products. To be honest, I wouldn't be completely heartbroken if that fateful day arrived soon. But before that happens—before I stop reviewing TJ's profound plethora of pumpkin products—two things will have to happen: Trader Joe's will have to stop releasing new pumpkin products OR I'll have to hit a looong streak of pumpkin nastiness, AND Americans will have to stop Googling "trader joes pumpkin spice" in such enormous numbers. Once those things come to pass, I shall hang up my hat as this blog's designated pumpkin and pumpkin spice reviewer extraordinaire.

However, this product did not help towards that end—that is, it's pretty friggin' tasty. Now I certainly don't have anything against Maple Sugar Candy, but before you pumpkin agnostics go declaring maple sugar the new pumpkin spice, you'll have to try pumpkin chai. Several readers tipped us off that this dessert was indeed worth a gander, and they were definitely not wrong.

I always thought pumpkin spices and chai spices were remarkably similar. And together, they're even better than they are separately. The cream cheese-based icing is where most of the chai flavor resides, and it's undoubtedly the sweetest and most decadent part of the product. It's absurdly delicious. Good thing they don't sell the icing in a can by itself. If they did, there'd be a widespread frosting-abuse epidemic, and people would be checking themselves in to clinics and joining twelve-step programs en masse.

The bread's not too shabby either. It's nice and soft. A bit crumby perhaps, but moist enough that the crumbs and chunks can be reassembled by mashing them with a fork before shoveling them into your mouth. Together with the icing, it's a delectable blend of sweetness and spiciness.

At $4.99 per loaf, it's not the cheapest pumpkin product we've tried this year. But in my opinion, it's worth every penny. It's perfect for dessert, but I must admit I've had it for breakfast on at least one occasion—easier to justify those calories in the morning, you know.

Four and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Maple Sugar Candy

"Ugh! Why does it have to be pumpkin spice everything!?!?!"

Believe it or not, that wasn't me who uttered that the other morning. No, it was M, my four year old, when I gave her the rundown of her breakfast options. Pumpkin O's. Pumpkin poptarts. Or a pumpkin muffin (not those, but close enough). Quite obviously, Sandy had done the last grocery shopping trip.

I have rarely been prouder as a papa.

Maple. It's one of the great flavors of fall, and it's so underrated. I think it's because all too many people equate "maple" as the "breakfast syrup" you see on shelves year round. Real, authentic maple has a little of a premium attached to it because it's not the most efficient treat to make, but in my opinion, God and nature has made no finer natural, rich and sugary, divinely inspired nectar than unadulterated maple.

So it stands to reason that Trader Joe's Maple Sugar Candy ought to be knock-out-of-park good. In case you haven't read "Little House In the Big Woods" 37 times like my wife and don't have the maple sugaring chapter(s) memorized, maple sugar is derived from boiling sap past the syrup point to where nearly all the liquid is dried up, leaving clumps of natural sugar solids. It's firm enough to be able to mold into different shapes, in this case little cute leaves.

This small bites are pretty representative of the maple sugar candy genre. There's a slightly firm crystallized feel that quickly melts away into smooth-yet-granuley, buttery soft spread. Enjoy that. Let it linger for a while, and run your tongue all over and slather up every last bit...mmmm....maple....these are treats meant to be enjoyed and savored. As I am one prone to gulp down most anything without much thought, Sandy probably is going to check my temperature after that statement. But it's true.

These candies are deeply rich, superbly maple, and easily satisfy with just one or two, despite their small size. I mean, they're only seven grams each...but only five of those grams are sugar...what's the other two, tree magic? I don't know.

Pair with a hot beverage. Sneak some on an autumn treat tray. Hide some away for yourself when you need a "me" moment.

The small sleeve of four cost $1.99 near the checkouts, which, all things considered, isn't a horrible price to pay. We enjoyed them as a family after-dinner treat and no one had any complaints, and the only one of us to give a less than perfect score was B, my not-quite-two year old, who was probably only trying to be her characteristically silly, difficult self. Really, no complaints, Take a seat, pumpkin spice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Maple Sugar Candy: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Almond Beverage

From the moment Sonia saw this product on Instagram, she was swooning. On her next TJ's run, she searched high and low, but could not find this enigmatic beverage in our favorite Marlton, New Jersey store. She asked an employee if they had it hidden in the stockroom or if they'd be getting a shipment of it soon. The Trader Joe's employee was friendly and polite, as they almost always are, but he replied something along the lines of, "No, people on the east coast don't like gross stuff like that." Actually, his reply wasn't anything like that. However, he did say it was only available on the west coast. We'd heard that before. Remember the Parsnip Chips?

In that case, we just waited like a week, and voila, they were suddenly available on the east coast as well. In talking with Russ, we discovered that just several days after we were told this product was only available on the west coast, it was suddenly available in Pittsburgh. Now unless there was some pretty significant seismic activity that somehow eluded the evening news and shifted The Steel City 2500 miles closer to the Pacific Ocean, there's absolutely no way you could say Pittsburgh is on the west coast. So Sonia still had hope.

Sure enough, a day or two later, this beverage popped up on shelves here in Jersey. Sonia snagged a carton, and soon we were both sipping pumpkin spice flavored almond milk. A happy ending, right? Well...

Sonia and I haven't disagreed this strongly on a product in quite a while. She enjoyed it thoroughly. I did not. You all know I'm down with pumpkin and pumpkin spice stuff for a limited time each year between mid-September and late December, right? And I've always liked plain or vanilla almond milk just fine. But this stuff didn't quite work for me somehow. It's not nearly as sweet and sugary as it needs to be to succeed as a desserty kind of drink. Yet it's not simple and nutty like the regular stuff.

At first, you can taste the pumpkin spices in spades. For a moment, it's almost enjoyable. But then, as the flavor rolls over your tongue, there's a bit of a weird chemical kind of vibe. And I'm not a huge fan of the slight aftertaste, either. The texture is fine—very similar to other almond beverages—but possibly a little bit thicker in this case. To me, the overall essence of this product is that of an unsweetened pumpkin spice coffee creamer, not designed to be a stand-alone beverage. But that's just me.

Sonia thinks it's silky, smooth, and just about right in every way. She likes the flavor just fine and is happy to chug the beverage straight out of the carton, although she does concede that it makes sense to use it as a coffee creamer even more than a drink all by itself. Four stars from her.

Two from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Sacha Inchi Seeds

I'm not really sure how to pronounce the words "sacha inchi." Even less sure how to pronounce the scientific name for this particular plant: plukenetia volubis, which apparently approximates Latin for "cross between starfruit and green pepper with somewhat hairy leaves" according to good ol' Wikipedia. I kinda had to stop reading after that part of the leaves.

But I did read just long enough to learn the seeds of the sacha inchi plants can be referred to also as things like "Incan peanuts." Okay, I can get around that, thank you...doesn't explain how this bag of Trader Joe's Sacha Inchi Seeds came from Thailand, but I'll just roll with it.

I'll admit I never heard of these before, and so while feeling brave enough to try them, I'll admit feeling a bit apprehensive too. I mean, these seeds are huge! Bigger than a shelled peanut, or at least any I'm familiar with. They smell like peanuts, though. And taste like peanuts, and crunch like roasted peanuts...with a healthy mix of balsa wood for good measure. You know, what they make those flimsy wooden toy airplanes out of.

That sounds like an insult, but really, it's not. It's just the only way I can think of describing them. They're lighter and munchier, and kinda crispier in a way, than a peanut, which one would expect from a seed, I guess...yet so much else about them is so nutty that it makes nuts the easier comparative. There's an earthy, roasty taste, accented by a respectful dose of sea salt, with a somewhat muted munch. The center of the seed is hollow which wasn't entirely expected and it definitely affects the bite, though how is tough to quantify.

And...there's an aftertaste. This is going to make me sound crazy, I'm sure, but when I mentioned it to not just Sandy but also a coworker or two, they understood: there's a vague fishy flavor. It's light and not unpleasant, but it's almost like a briny aspect one could expect from a slab of fish is somehow present, too. As I ate more, or quickly chased a handful of seeds with a drink of water, that sensation diminished. Could be taste bud acclimation, Could be me coming to my senses. Not sure which way to say, but there you have it.

This sack a' sacha seeds cost no more than few bucks and is a welcome addition to my work snack drawer. The protein and fiber in there make a good little boast to hold me over til lunch or dinner. There's also some superfood powers ascribed to these particular seeds, so take what you will from that. I'm happy just to have them as is for a snack. Just don't ask me to pronounce it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sacha Inchi Seeds: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Brooklyn Babka

Let's say my review of the Chocolate Brooklyn Babka was Episode IV, A New Hope: an unfamiliar genre of food at TJ's; a baked good by which to measure all others of its kind. Well then, logically, Mr. Shelly's look at the Mango Brooklyn Babka was The Empire Strikes Back, with mango playing the role of Lando Calrissian. At first, both mango and Lando seem super cool. But then, you realize you don't want to spend a ton of time with them, particularly when they betray you to Darth Vader and/or spoil your summer TJ's runs with ridiculous amounts of mango-infused nonsense. But in the end, Lando turns out to be okay and joins the rebellion, just as certain mango products are very welcome, despite having to keep your guard up just a little bit whenever you're around them.

So that leads us to this product: Pumpkin Spice Brooklyn Babka. If we're sticking with our Star Wars metaphors, then we've arrived, inexorably, at The Return of the Jedi. Can you guess what role "pumpkin spice" plays here? 

That's right. Ewoks.

Super divisive, either love 'em or hate 'em, overly cutesy, give their fans the warm fuzzies, some might say unnecessary, yet as they stand, an integral part of the season/story.

If you don't like Ewoks, they'll ruin Episode VI for you. If you don't like pumpkin spice, it'll probably ruin this babka in a similar fashion. I embrace both for what they are, although, even I have my limits. There's just no justifying those god-awful pumpkin caramels or The Battle for Endor

But back to the babka. I looked up what kinds of babkas exist in normal New York bakeries, and pretty consistently, chocolate and cinnamon were the only flavors to come up in the articles I found. Neither mango nor pumpkin spice were mentioned. Ever. But hey, this isn't a bakery in Boro Park, this is Trader Joe's. They can do what they want. But I would like to ask them: why wouldn't you want to make a Cookie Butter Brooklyn Babka? Not such a far cry from cinnamon, I would think. But what do I know?

On a podcast episode long ago, Russ mentioned the lightness and airiness of the mango babka (just like Cloud City). Sonia and I were perplexed, as the chocolate variety was quite dense, rich, and heavy. Now we know what he was talking about, as the bread within this pumpkin spice version, too, is nice and light. Fluffy almost. The top of the babka is the exception to the airiness. It's thicker, heavier, and more flavorful than the rest of the product, and both Sonia and I agree it's our favorite part.

There's a fair amount of pumpkin spice flavor throughout. Sonia says she tastes an abundance of allspice in particular. She wishes there were a little less of it. I have a hard time identifying individual pumpkin spice flavors, but I do notice a slightly-more-pungent-than-usual pumpkin spice flavor that's just a little unappealing. It also leaves a slight aftertaste. That must be what she's talking about.

All in all, the flavor's about what you'd expect for a pumpkin spice pastry. The texture is pleasant and inviting. Personally, I'd put this on par with the chocolate babka, score-wise. If I wanted something rich and heavy, I'd grab the chocolate kind. If I wanted something light and fall-ish, I'd grab this one. Either way, these babkas will obliterate your munchies like a massive battle station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet.

Three and a half Death Stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trader Joe's Roasted Tomatillo & Mango Salsa

Ya know, in retrospect, it was probably unfair of me to say I was done with any Trader Joe's new fangled mango products. Truth was, as probably all of the rest of you, I was just sick of them, and poor Nathan had to pick up the blog slack, which in true Rodgers fashion, was done admirably.

But now, it's *sigh* pumpkin spice season. Unless there's some flashy irresistible bang-up product that I just can't resist (unlikely, but possible), I'm probably leaving all that alone, so if there's a new mango product I could possibly be interested in, I think I oughtta pick it up.

Actually, I have no idea if Trader Joe's Roasted Tomatillo & Mango Salsa is new or not. October doesn't exactly scream "Fruit Salsa Appreciation Month," so it seems weird to think it's new...but then again, I hadn't seen it. Maybe I just had my anti-mango horse blinders on. You tell me.

Would've been a shame to miss out on it. This salsa is mighty fine. There's a lot of sweetness, seemingly more from roasted tomatillo than anything else. And heat. lots of heat. Look at the ingredients - there' ghost pepper in here, which gives off a lot of spice, more than otherwise anticipated from appearances.

In what seems to be a strange step of salsa science, there's also corn and black beans tossed in the mix. I'm not really sure why that is...they're not exactly unwelcome, but it's not like any flavor gets added by them.

Maybe it's just to hide the mangoes.

I mean, there are mangoes in here...some decent sized pieces...but unless you happen to bite square into one, and pay some attention to it, it's easy to miss. With all of those aforementioned factors - roasty tomatillo sweetness, spicy heat, added texture of beans and corn - it's kinda easy to skip over the fact that there's mangoes involved. Even after repeated tastings, I'm not sure if I want to say that they're approaching indetectability or if they inconspicuously tie it all together.

Regardless of whichever answer, I'll come back for more and more. It's pretty fantastic salsa, which i found paired exceptionally well with some multigrain tortilla chips. Sandy's a huge fan because of the heat and absence of tomatoes, and as for me, I like the experimental feel to it - it's an odd hodge-podge that in the end works rather well. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Tomatillo & Mango Salsa: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Sticky Pumpkin Cake with Hard Sauce

When I first read the title of this product, I assumed the "hard sauce" was referring to some sort of a solid sauce—like that Magic Shell stuff that you put on ice cream. And since ice cream is featured so prominently on the cover photo, I then wondered if maybe they stuck some ice cream in the box. I mean, this product comes from the frozen section, so it wouldn't have been outside the realm of possibility to cram a pouch or cup of vanilla ice cream in there somehow. Then, of course, I saw the little caption that says "...just a serving suggestion" and realized there was no ice cream. I frowned and mentioned it to Sonia. She, too, felt deceived by the artistic rendering of an à la mode dessert on the packaging. I was then further frustrated when I realized the "hard" part of the sauce was, in fact, dark rum, rather than a substance that shifted states of matter from a sticky syrupy liquid to a solid candy shell in a matter of minutes or seconds, right before my eyes.

After consoling one another about the tragic absence of ice cream from the box, as well as the equally disappointing presence of hard liquor in lieu of Magic Shell, we pulled ourselves together and proceeded with the preparation of our dessert. We flipped the package over and discovered that the only heating instructions provided involve a 1200 watt microwave. Now it's been pointed out many times on this blog that I'm quite adept at using the microwave for my culinary endeavors, while my skills with an oven or stove-top have generally lagged behind those of my peers. However, it should be mentioned at this juncture that Sonia and I have actually done without a microwave for the past three or four months. We have our own reasons for not purchasing a replacement microwave right now, but mainly, we just wanted to see if we could do without it. And surprisingly, neither of us have missed it very much. That is, until the day we went to heat up this sticky pumpkin cake.

At wit's end after the triple dose of first-world problems dished out by this syrupy, seasonal Trader Joe's pastry, I frantically searched the interwebs for a ray of hope concerning a viable alternate heating method. Thanks to the magic of Google, I quickly stumbled upon a thread on Chowhound involving some other poor microwaveless fool and his Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Pudding, a wintery cousin of this autumnal pumpkin dish. (Sonia and I actually reviewed that one last year, and we should have remembered that it was to be heated only in the microwave, but now we're in our late thirties, our memories simply aren't what they used to be.) Long story short, I modified the advice given in the Chowhound thread and floated the pumpkin cake (yes, it floats!) in a large lidded pot on the stove-top, boiling the water all around it, thus steaming it, heating it, and yet maintaining a level of moisture that could never be achieved in the oven or regular stove-top pan.

At any rate, it worked quite well, and wow, I guess I should get to my thoughts on the actual food product before this review goes over a thousand words and you still don't know what we think of this product. It's good. There's definitely some pumpkin spice flavor, but it's blended in with heavy notes of the above-mentioned dark rum and caramel. The syrup is rich, lavishly sweet, and super smooth. The pecan pieces are a nice touch, and they add not only nuttiness to the taste, but a bit of crunch to the texture. 

It's really a delicious dessert, but we do have a few reservations. I'm sure it would be even better with vanilla ice cream to balance out the heaviness of the rum-caramel. And it would probably be even better with more pecans, too. If you're hugely into pumpkin spice products, this might be something you'll want to pick up, but if you're on the fence or if pumpkin spice and rum just isn't your thing, you're better off waiting until December and picking up the sticky toffee pudding. Despite our affinity for all things pumpkin, we both enjoyed that one just a little bit more, although this one's nothing to complain about by any means.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Grainless Granola

Some of our longer tenured readers may recall me prattling on and on a couple years ago about the Paleo diet I was doing. Not really wanting to rehash it all in detail, so for the uninitiated, here's the TL;DR version: For years I was severely overweight before starting a exercise and Paleo diet regime that resulted in me losing 100 pounds. It's been nearly a year and a half since I hit that century mark, and I've kept but a small handful of those pounds off thus far. And while I don't follow a Paleo diet too strictly any more, I still dabble with it here and there when given the choice, and so it's still kinda part of my ongoing weight loss maintenance program.

It's somewhat late to the party, but here's Trader Joe's Grainless Granola. Kinda wonder what took TJ's so long. A couple years ago when being discontinued in local Targets, I bought every last sackful of Renola in the greater Pittsburgh region. So, I'm pretty familiar with these kinda caveman-friendly mixes of fruits, nuts and seeds, although I still can't figure out why they're referred to as a "granola."

It's a good mix overall...but a bit odd. There's no real crunch or crispiness or anything. Instead, it seems as if perhaps the moisture of the dates permeated the nuts (cashews and walnuts) and seeds (sunflower and pumpkin) so almost everything is a soft, slightly smushy, uniform texture. That's not necessary a bad thing, but it cuts down on the snacky factor of it, and could present issues for those wishing to sprinkle some on top of some yogurt or oatmeal. The dates and dried bananas seemed to clump a tad bit, too, so if that's not your thing, beware.

Also, you gotta like cinnamon. A lot. This stuff has a massive dose of cinnamon that'll smack your nostrils when the bag opens and be present in every bite. It's not enough to override any the individual components, thank goodness, because there's plenty of "as-is" natural flavor in the granola. There's also a small smattering of vanilla, but it's not as even or present as the cinnamon, which is fine.

A few small handfuls filled the hunger hole for a good amount of time. I kept a bag at my work desk for a few days and happily munched, and wasn't 'til I was throwing out the bag that I noticed that it said to keep refrigerated after opening....umm, why? Nothing perishable in there. Someone please explain.

Anyways, the sack cost $3.99 which is about right for a snack mix of this nature. You could probably make your own for a little less, but, well, convenience. It's what separates us from the cavemen.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Grainless Granola: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Trader Joe's Ghosts & Bats

Well now that October's here, I think it's high time we reviewed these seasonally-appropriate, Halloween-themed snacks: ghosts and bats. Albino bats, apparently. In fact, the "bats" in this bag are nothing more than ghosts with wings. Both shapes represent fittingly ethereal characters—light, airy, and barely there.

And that's kind of how I'd describe the taste of these potato-based snacks: extremely subtle. They're like baked potato chips or crisps, but without any added flavors. "Salt" can be found on the ingredients list, but these are among the least salty chips I've ever had. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Especially around Halloween, when candy and chocolate are everywhere, a break from the fat and calories can be quite welcome.

On the other hand, if I had to pick one type of low-calorie chip to eat for the rest of my life, Ghosts & Bats would definitely not be my first choice. I like chips with a little seasoning at least—maybe some barbecue flavor or sour cream taste. That's not to say you couldn't dress these up a bit yourself. In fact, Sonia said they remind her of "duros de harina" or "duritos," a Mexican wheat-based snack, often served spritzed with lemon or lime juice and chili powder. 

So we tried these chips with a few drops of lemon and a dash of chili, and sure enough, it made them significantly more interesting. The theme suddenly changed from Halloween to Dia de los Muertos—but they're basically the same holiday, minus the part where Mexican folk leave meals in the cemetery for their dearly departed family members.

The crispiness of these ghostly chips is pleasant. There's a delicate crunch to them that's far more interesting than their flavor, in my opinion. They are prone to staleness, however. We kept our bag shut with a rubber band we had laying around in the kitchen, and after just a few days, the chips were noticeably more...styrofoam-like, for lack of a better word.

In summary, these chips are fun and crispy, but they lack a certain something in the flavor department. Three stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trader Joe's Boffo! Bar


It's an adjective that means "extremely good or successful" according to Merriam Webster. It can also be used as a noun meaning simply "a success" according to my top Google results.

What I can't find is anyone who actually uses this word anymore, and I'm not going to start. At least it has a more positive connotation to its name than another, similar candy bar, that's perhaps a tad more famous and ubiquitous, named after a verb that means to "derisively sneer or laugh" at someone or something. Maybe it's not itself when it's hungry.

Well, alright, alright...what's the difference between a Trader Joe's Boffo! Bar and a Snickers? Hrmm...peanuts, caramel and nougat enrobed in milk chocolate. Could describe either adequately. Well, they're different...hugely different...and definitively, absolutely not the same, and Boffo!s (Boffos!?) are not pulled from the reject pile at the Mars factory...

Don't believe me? Fact check: Boffo!s weigh 1.8 ounces, as opposed to Snickers weighing 1.86, and as a result, have 10 less calories. So ha!

Well, okay...there are other differences which admittedly the wife and I wouldn't have picked up on if we hadn't eaten half a Boffo! and half a Snickers back to back, because, you know, science. Take a gander at the two dissected candy bars I put up a pic of: first one is the Boffo!, followed by the Snickers. The Boffo!, though smaller, has a chunkier feel to it than a Snickers, and whereas, to me, Snickers seem to rely more on peanuts and caramel with nougat playing second fiddle, it's the opposite for the Boffo! The nougat of a Boffo! comprises more of the innards, with a lighter, drier, and "foamier" feel to it, with only a faint ribbon of caramel up top, and it's decidedly lighter in the nuts department (sorry, had to *snicker* at that). On the whole Boffo! bar there were maybe six or seven peanut pieces, which seems lacking given the standard out there. But that nougat though - tasty stuff. The Boffo! chocolate also seems a tad more on the dark side, though still not dark chocolate by any stretch.

Repeat buy? Maybe. There's a time and place for an easily accessible, quick appetite smusher that sometimes involves the TJ checkout line. But compared to other of TJ's fine candy bar selections, this one is decidedly more utility than luxury. And I'm not a huge Snickers-type guy either...I mean, I'll be shameless when taking the "daddy tax" out of my kids' trick-or-treat bags, but there's plenty others I'd reach for first. Like Butterfingers...Anyways, it's 99 cents which seems to be the going rate for candy bars these days. Nothing too strong to say one way or another - not TJ's strongest performance, but nothing to make too much jest of, either. Check the nutritional stats here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Boffo! Bar: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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